A free media is pivotal to the success and sustainability of any democracy. Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) says, “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes, freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Similarly, Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that the press, radio, television and other agencies of mass media, shall, at all times, be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of those in government.
In a recent report, the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) said impunities like, harassments, physical assault, brutalisation, armed robbery, threat to life, unlawful arrest and detention, bruises, fracture and public humiliation are on the increase.
In a data made available to The Guardian, MRA recorded more than 10 cases of unresolved killings from 1999 till date. One of the victims includes former Assistant News Editor of The Guardian, Bayo Ohu, who was gruesomely murdered in his house.
According to UNESCO’s Regional Adviser on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists, Lydia Gachungi, “attacks on journalists are attacks on freedom of expression. Defending journalism is standing up for democracy. Now, more than ever, we need facts and press freedom.”
According to Gachungi, nine out of 10 journalists killed remain unresolved. On how to address unresolved killings of journalists, former Publicity Secretary, Nigeria Guild of Editor (NGE) and Publisher, Political Economist NG, Ken Ugbechie, said, “we gave up on Dele Giwa and others. Journalists must fight as a unit and their fight must be sustained until justice is served. We can explore justice outside Nigeria if we face frustration at home. We can approach ECOWAS Court or report cases suspected to be state sponsored killings to African Union (AU), United Nations (UN) and International Criminal Court (ICC). Individual journalists can go to court when their rights are violated.”
While insisting government must protect citizens including journalists and cater for their welfare, he observed that other key actors, including legal practitioners, magistrates and judges are assigned police aides for their security, but journalists who take the most risk are not protected.
To him, the onus “falls on us to resort to internal vigilance and make arrangements for our personal security. NUJ and NGE should ensure that members are insured. This helps to cushion shocks in moments of adversity.”
Ugbechie said leadership of journalism groups must at all times ensure direct communication and liaise with the top echelon of security agencies to address cases of abuse of rights of journalists usually carried out by lower rank cadre in the security forces.
New York Times correspondent, Tony Iyare, said the respective agencies indicted should pay huge compensation for the bruises and pains caused to their victims.
In addition, he said they should show remorse by sending letters of apology and must pay for damaged and loss of equipment like, cameras, phones and other personal properties.
Iyare, who is also Nigeria Country Adviser to the Department of Political Science, Swarthmore College, Philadelphia, United States, added that there is need for massive education of security agencies to appreciate the role of journalists in sustaining the country’s democratic enterprise.
He said, “security agencies need to know that they have a common stake with journalists and by extension the media, to secure society. They need to understand that without an unfettered media to report the work of public officials and put them regularly on the grill, they may ride rough shod on the society. They need to be apprised that it is the responsibility of the media to constantly remind public officials of their social contract and make them accountable to the people.’
He said bodies like Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) and NGE need to be constantly alive to their responsibilities of defending their members against persistent backlashes from security agencies and harassment by public officials.
He noted that the organisations also need to live above board and not engage in the trade off of their members for a mess of pottage.
Stakeholders in the media, he further argued, need to press on with advocacy to ensure that media houses live up to the task of protecting their workers against attacks by insuring them.
He added, “stakeholders can also engage and lobby the National Assembly to enact a law that will compel all media owners to insure their staff. The respective house unions can also embark on the task of insuring their members.”
MRA Executive Director, Edaeten Ojo, noted that with the killing of these journalists and media practitioners, it is evident that the Nigerian State has failed in its obligation to protect them.
Having failed in this regard, he suggested that the other responsibility government has is to seriously investigate their killing to identify the perpetrators, prosecute and punish them.
In addition, he said the government should pay monetary compensations to the families of the journalists who were, in probably all the cases, the breadwinners for their families.
While these measures will not bring back the dead journalists, he said they could serve to give closure to their families and colleagues, who, many years after each of these incidents still have no definitive information about those responsible for their murder.
He noted that not in a single one of all of these cases has a serious and successful investigation been conducted, leading to the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators, which is scandalous.
According to him, “it is disgraceful for our government and the law enforcement agencies. What is worse is that it sends a message to others who are planning to or contemplating killing journalists that they can do so and get away with it, that there will be no serious investigation and that they will not be found out or held accountable.”
Continuing, he added, “even in cases where security or law enforcement agents have been responsible for the killing of journalists, whether deliberate or accidental and such security or law enforcement agents are known or could be fairly easily identified, the government has not taken even administrative disciplinary measures against them to show its abhorrence for their actions or simply to indicate that it does not condone such action.”
To seriously address impunity for these crimes against journalists, he suggested that government and law enforcement agencies must take seriously their responsibility to speedily investigate any and all killings of journalists, identify the perpetrators, prosecute and punish them.
In addition, he said it is only by so doing that it can discourage future attacks against journalists, including killing.
Speaking further, he argued that the role and responsibility of the state and its officials to protect journalists is very well established and articulated in a number of instruments at the global and regional levels.
Since 2012, when the United Nations system adopted the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, he disclosed that different organs of the UN have adopted various instruments to outline the imperative and the responsibility of governments to protect journalists and enjoy their safety.
He said the UN General Assembly has adopted five resolutions on the safety of journalists, spelling out these roles, the UN Human Rights Council has adopted three similar resolutions on the issue, the UN Security Council had adopted one resolution on the subject, while UNESCO’s General Conference, which consists of representatives of all its member states, has also adopted one resolution.
At the African level, in addition to various resolutions by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, he said in November 2019, the Commission adopted the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa.
Ojo added that Principle 20 of the Declaration spells out in great detail the obligation of African Union member states where the issue of the safety of journalists is concerned.